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The second wave of coronavirus in India has surpassed all the records of daily cases and even deaths. Timely testing is one of the keys to effective Covid-19 treatment but the unprecedented surge in cases is putting extreme pressure on diagnostic centres and labs. Genestrings Diagnostics, which was founded in 2017, has also diversified into testing Coronavirus during the Pandemic. Since the beginning of COVID-19, Genestrings helped the Delhi government to execute testing of COVID-19 samples at its Malviya Nagar laboratory. It also runs India’s first round-the-clock test-on-arrival laboratory at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi offering RT-PCR tests set from September 2020. It claims to deliver the results in 6 hours, one of the fastest in the world. Genestrings grew amid the pandemic and clocked a four-digit growth rate in FY 2020-21. In conversation with the Financial Express Online, Dr Gauri Agarwal, Founder-Director, Genestrings Diagnostic Centre & Seeds of Innocence talked about the current situation of COVID-19 testing in India and their expansion plans. Excerpts:
How many samples were you testing daily before the surge?
Before the second wave, we were conducting about 2,000 tests a day, combining both the labs in Delhi. The load now has increased 3 folds as compared to the last week of March, including both home collection and attached hospitals.
What was the TAT for RT-PCR tests before the surge? What is the TAT now?
Genestrings is conducting close to 6,000-7,000 tests a day between both our labs in Delhi. We were the first lab and still the only lab in the country offering a 6-7 hour turnaround time (TAT) per test at our lab at T3, IGI Airport. For our main reference lab, the TAT is 24 hours.
Is the rising number of cases stretching your daily testing capacity?
With the surge, we’ve upgraded our capacity at the airport lab so as to maintain the TAT committed. However, data upload on government portals is an additional step which extends the whole process by up to 48 hours for negative cases only.
Are you providing home collection services now?
We are providing home collection services with a prior appointment, despite the increased number of such requests and samples received from other sources. However, on some days, we are unable to accommodate same-day ad hoc requests.
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What is the reason behind the delay in delivering the test results? Is there any shortfall — manpower, equipment, kits, etc?
Right now, with the rapid transmission of the disease, many of our technicians are also calling sick. Therefore, manpower is a concern, not only for us but I believe for many of the testing labs. However, we are not facing any crunch immediately as we had a large backup for our operations at IGI airport which came in handy.
What measures are you taking to address this?
We have been recruiting a large number of people since the beginning of the pandemic — Genestrings grew its employee base by 1125 per cent during the pandemic. We have withheld fresh recruitments as of now due to the situation, I hope to continue the streak once the infection rates come down.
Cases have emerged where RT-PCR negative people are diagnosed with COVID only after a CT scan. What do you think is the reason for this?
The result of the RT-PCR test depends on the concentration of the viral load in the nasopharyngeal swab collected for the testing. However, once the symptoms appear, people panicked and get tested on day 1 when the viral load is not that high. Ideally, one should get tested between day 3 and 5 when the viral load has got time to mature and chances of a false negative are minimal.
Will the mutations impact the effectiveness of RT-PCR tests?
RTPCR is the gold standard of COVID testing and is effective even with mutations as has been seen with UK and other strains so far.
What are the changes that you have seen from the first wave of COVID till now?
As compared to the last time, more younger people are testing positive this time. Last time, fever, dry cough and body ache were the primary symptoms. This time, there are barely any. Most are complaining of dry mouth, gastrointestinal issues, nausea, diarrhea, red eye and headache. Many are experiencing mild symptoms but more people this time are needed oxygen support.
Are you planning to expand your lab facilities?
We wish to expand our operations to 5 more cities in India in the first quarter of FY 2021-22, but the execution will largely depend on the COVID situation.
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